RAGBRAI 2016
(excerpts from John Condon's journal)


This recently-completed RAGBRAI 2016 was a good one in most respects. It was hot, but not too hot. It was very hilly in parts, but most hills were not mountainous . . . Our new driver, Dan Rotto, did an excellent job and was great company as well.

RAGBRAI is a peak experience each year for me. I looked at this particular ride with a little dread based on its southern route, its hills and our lack of certainty on one of the homestays. The experience for me does not simply take place during the 8-day tour. I and other teammates plan well in advance; and even after the trip, we take some time to decompress. The stress of the trip - both physical and mental - requires a kind of full immersion of one's body and psyche that is at once exhausting and exciting. If a rider is in good physical shape, and with some previous RAGBRAI experience, he or she is better able to experience the exhilarating parts of the journey. It occurred to me while on the ride that if it were normal and required to bicycle 50 miles every single day I could very likely do it, forever . . .

COSTUMES

Our team, Team Wheelers, includes three of us who wear costumes while we bike. I wear a gold sequined top hat over my helmet, a gold lame vest, gold sequin gloves and shoes; and my bike is decorated by sequined butterfly tapestries . . . The overall effect is pretty bright and shiny. I ride a recumbent bike, which I sit on like a motorcycle. I enjoy the interaction with other riders as they mention what they think I am trying to convey. "Hey Elvis", "King of Mardi Gras", "Elton John", "Las Vegas", "Disco King" etc. . . . I find it funny and interesting. Sometimes I respond with "Oh, this old thing?" or "It's important to look good…for the ladies." . . .

My wife Teresa and her sister Tracy have become costumed stars of RAGBRAI. They both are the same size and nearly the same age, and they both dress in identical pink baby outfits. These frilly outfits include a bonnet over the helmet, a bib around the neck and a large diaper pinned over their white, biking shorts. Cute shoes round out the outfit. Their bikes have a "Baby on Board" sign along with a Pampers box which holds a teddy bear. They cannot walk 10 feet without someone taking a picture. They have been featured in the Des Moines Register and in smaller papers across the state. They are very cute but with just a hint of "weirdo" which provides a ton of humor for all involved. The costumes have an unexpected benefit: all I have to do to find out their relative position while on the route is ask anybody "Have you passed the Big Babies?", and they as well can ask "Have you seen Mr. Sequin?" or "That Sparkly guy?"  RAGBRAI is often a very crowded scene with 15,000 riders and lots of support people, and our costumes stand out from the very generic biking clothes most wear . . .

PLAYING MUSIC ON RAGBRAI

This year I played a good amount of guitar almost every day. My fellow rider Dale brought a banjo, and we played a 45-minute set of oldies at a nursing home where we were camping in Ottumwa. Teresa and Dan joined in with us while the residents were served spaghetti. Dale and I, and a couple others (a very talented Jeff and Ally from Sandwich, IL) performed in the Peanut Butter Jam (PBJ) tent while on the ride. We made some excellent music together with Dale and me on guitars - Jeff expertly playing the Cajun, and Ally playing the ukulele and all singing. We had a responsive crowd, and our jam was great fun for all. Just like the old days at the PBJ! . . . Singing on the front porches, back porches and with the other riders and the local kids around is one of my favorite things about RAGBRAI . . .

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

While riding up to 80 miles a day, there are occasional diversions of interest. There was a printing museum that I heard was interesting, I learned about a famous civil war soldier buried in Letts cemetery, I toured a huge old mansion for sale for $50K in Garden Grove, and we toured the best thing most of us have seen in all of our RAGBRAI stops; the Dumont Museum near Sigourney, IA. You should look it up further as my descriptions would not do it justice. If you appreciate huge model train displays, Roy Rogers memorabilia, the finest restored tractor and implement collection around, you will not regret a trip - even a long trip - to the Dumont Museum . . .
Doug Koempel © 2016
Teresa Condon (right) with sister Tracy Henriksen as "The Babies" - their RAGBRAI alter egos. Click on image above to view video.